Idowu Asenuga is the Managing Director, Agri Supplies Limited, an agribusiness project company that is interested in the availability of foods for the Nigerian masses. The company is also into some core agricultural production activities. Following this passion to get rid of food scarcity in African region especially in Nigeria, Agri Supply Limited in collaboration with its partners decided to convene first of its kind event called, “West African Agribusiness Show”, which is basically going to focus agricultural development in Africa. Excerpts:
What is going to be the peg of West African Agribusiness Show?
If you check the theme of the event, it is all about how to accelerate food revolution in Africa, that is what we intend to achieve. And that is a tall order. So, the starting point is for us to create this platform where critical stakeholders in the industry both locally and globally can convene and start having engagement and conversation through this initiative. Through this means, we believe we should be able to find a solution to food shortage in Africa.
You said the theme is going to centre on food revolution in Africa, tell us how to solve food crisis in Africa, especially Nigeria?
When you look at food crises, it comes in two forms. First is quality, which is an aspect that has eluded us as a people. I don’t believe Africans should have access to any kind of food, but Africa should have access to quality food. So, one of the ways we should start looking at quality food is to start laying emphasis on productivity because our challenges are on productivity. For instance, a local cow in Nigeria produces about 4 to 5 litres of milk per day, while in the western world, a cow produces about 35 to 50 litres per day. That is a huge 10-fold differential. Now, if you are looking at possibility for cheaper and quality food, you must increase productivity and through improved productivity that prices can go down because when our farmers become more productive and effective, prices will reduce drastically. The African farmers generally need to be more productive in terms of quantity and at the same time look at quality. I believe this is the only way the masses can have affordable food, and that is what West African Agribusiness Show is all about.
Are you into partnership to make to make this programme a success?
Like I always say, the solution to our agribusiness crisis in Africa is not a one man show, and that is why for us, it is expedient that we identify very clearly most of the critical stakeholders in the industry. Our stakeholders include the Federal Ministry of Agriculture which is the coordinator of agribusiness activities, and we are believing that they will give us the necessary support needed for this event. Also, we have the buy-in of the Nigerian Agribusiness Group which is the umbrella body constituted by government to organise various agribusinesses in Nigeria. We are in touch with the Director General and they are also on board for this event.
Other stakeholder is the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) which is the custodian of the organised private sector. As I speak with you, this event is registered with NACCIMA and it is the umbrella body constituted by government to control the organisation of such events in Nigeria and they will also be partnering with us on this event. We have engaged Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industry; they are also stakeholders, so also is the Poultry Association of Nigeria and other various associations and critical stakeholders in the agribusiness value chain who are going to be engaged.
What is your take on agribusiness in Nigeria and Africa as a whole?
This is a good question. Recently we visited Cocoa House in Ibadan, and I was told that it was the tallest building in Africa at some point and it was erected over 50 years ago, from proceeds of agriculture and it was built by government of the defunct Western Region under the Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. For me, I still believe strongly that we have the capacity to replicate and surpass that feat even in today’s Nigeria. We have what it takes to take our rightful place in Agribusiness on the continent and globally. As we speak, Nigeria is the highest producer of yam in the world, highest producer of cassava in the world. We have lost our place significantly when it comes to cash crops like cocoa, oil palm, rubber, cotton, cashew and the rest of them. But we can still reclaim that glorious reputation. I strongly believe that government needs to invest our resources in the right place. Certainly, if we want to diversify the economy, agriculture remains the vehicle through which it can be done. We need to wake up as a country because our oil which has been speculated to dry up in few decades is no longer the only challenge facing our economy but in the very near future, the advent of technology will soon make our oil more irrelevant and less sought after. Just recently, Honda announced that they are going to scrap the production of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2022. What will happen to us with a mono-economy from oil when oil is no longer needed globally? So, we need to wake up as a people and start thinking of ways we can give agriculture the right attention it deserves.
Funding agriculture is always the challenge in Nigeria, what is your advice to both government and stakeholders?
I have a contrary position regarding the problem of agriculture. A lot of people say funding is the main challenge of agriculture, but I beg to disagree on that. I believe strongly that the first thing that is missing is the know-how. And because of the lack of technical know-how, you find out that most people who had invested into agribusiness lost their money. So, when you lose your money and I lose my money, who would like to go into agribusiness? What we need to fix first and immediately is the knowledge gap. And that begins with our research institutes, what kind of research are they doing? What is the level of know-how within the country? How do we attract knowledge since we don’t have it? And this is what WAAS (West African Agribusiness Show) platform stands to create.
Through this platform and event what is Nigeria and Africa expecting?
Basically, the fundamental thing this platform (WAAS) stands to provide for people is the exchange of know-how, because at the event we will be having people coming from the West who have a lot of knowledge. We are going to have people coming from across the region to share knowledge as well. So, what we are saying is that, let’s create this platform where local, regional and international players can interact to ensure that Western knowledge and regional know-how can be localized to solve the Nigeria agribusiness problems. For instance, if you have a knowledge that is working for you in Ghana, is it going to work in Nigeria and if not, what do we need to change? It is imperative for us to
have those conversations first and then we can now begin to talk about financial resources needed to drive those brilliant ideas, innovations and other things this platform (West Africa Agribusiness Show) stands to bring.
What is your plan to sustain this platform in the future?
This programme is not going to be a one-off thing. We are in it for long haul. This is going to be a yearly event and for now it will be in Nigeria because, Nigeria is the largest economy within the West African region and it has the highest population as well. In order to drive participants and impact, we still want to keep the event in Nigeria as an annual event. And things to expect from this event is that the big players, small players, policy makers and every stakeholder within the agribusiness value chain would come together to discuss and find solutions to challenges facing agribusiness in Africa.
In many parts of the country, primitive agriculture method is still used, making it unattractive to youths, how do we make agriculture attractive to our youths?
Our youths need to be organized to drive food sufficiency in Nigeria and all hands have to be on deck. You need the commercial guys that are going to play very big, you also need small scale farmers that need to be aggregated and organised. At the end of the day, what matters is our ability as a group of people to organise our small-scale farmers and youths to start small; deploy simple technology that is not too expensive and cumbersome that can easily provide a better efficiency and productivity. Because at the end of the day, if they are not productive there is no way they can earn enough from agribusiness, and that is part of the things that have kept them away. For instance, if you look at maize production, the average yield per hectare in Nigeria is two tones and the price of maize as it is today is about N80, 000. When I have a hectare as a farmer, and I product two tones from my farm that is N160, 000. When you look at the maize circle in Nigeria, you can actually do two circles in a year. As a youth how am I going to survive on two tonnes per hectare yield that will give me N160, 000 which is less than N15, 000 a month? There is no way that can encourage any youth to participate in agriculture. But if I can provide these youths with simple technology and help them with land preparation and all that, you can allocate one hectare to each one of them and productivity can go up to 10 metric tonnes per hectare. What that implies is that I can get N800, 000 from a hectare of land as my output. And that begins to make sense because the minimum wage in Nigeria as at today, N30, 000, that is N360, 000 per annum. So, by providing know-how, inputs, mechanisation, we can improve their productivity and improve their efficiency. That way you will be taking away a lot of people out of poverty and encourage our unemployed youths to go into agribusiness. Also, simple equipment that can enable them to go into food processing will be a good idea. Hence, we are encouraging all Nigerians and West Africans to participate in the West Africa Agribusiness show coming up on the 18th to 20th February, 2020 at Landmark Event Centre, Victoria Island Lagos, Nigeria. For partnership, exhibition, registration and sponsorship visit www.waashow.org